Lake Monroe’s Watershed & Hoosier National Forest: Defining “Public Good”

By Sherry Mitchell-Bruker

Some say that Lake Monroe is fortunate because 82% of the watershed is forested and 43% of those forests are under state and federal management.

But what happens if both the state and the U.S. Forest Service aggressively harvest in the watershed? This is the issue we are now facing. Of the 24% of the watershed that is state forest (Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood), logging projects are completed, planned or ongoing in both.

Until recently, the Forest Service had refrained from large logging projects within the watershed. That is now changing.

Timber harvesting in the Hoosier National Forest (H.N.F.) has increased from 3,868 cunits (100 cubic feet or C.C.F.) in 2011 to 7,444 cunits in 2014. In 2016 the 38-acre Buffalo Pike project was completed under a Categorical Exclusion, meaning no public review was required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Although the record of decision for Buffalo Pike stated that the project was not in the Lake Monroe watershed, in fact the entire project was in the South Fork Salt Creek basin, which is the most impaired section of the Lake Monroe watershed. Now the Forest Service is planning a 4,000-acre logging project called Houston South, which is also in the South Fork part of the Lake Monroe watershed. The Forest Service manages 42% of the land in the South Fork section of the watershed.

The proposed Houston South project includes 417 acres of clear-cut logging, 714 acres shelterwood harvest, 2,342 acres of hardwood thinning, 96 acres of pine thinning and 435 acres of hardwood selection. Most of the area is steeply sloped with highly erodible soils. The project is in the early planning stages and will most likely change as new information and analysis is provided. According to the 2006 management plan for the H.N.F., habitat in this area is best suited for wildlife that uses large hardwood trees and a mosaic of different-aged forest. The plan said restoring wetlands should be the highest priority to maintain and restore watershed health.

Friends of Lake Monroe is a local group dedicated to finding solutions to improve the water quality of Lake Monroe and its watershed, enhancing its value as a drinking-water, recreational, and ecological resource. We envision a regional community that appreciates, sustains, and enjoys the lake, including its larger surrounding ecosystems, to ensure drinkable, swimmable, and fishable waters.

We have worked with various environmental and governmental organizations, including the Forest Service, to obtain funding to develop a management plan for the watershed. We are working to reduce nutrient and sediments in the streams and the lake. We are asking all of the land managers and residents in the watershed to play their part. Harvesting timber on 4,000 acres risks an increase in soil erosion, which is moving in the opposite direction.

The watershed is large—more than 270,000 acres. The Forest Service manages 50,870 of those acres, or almost 20%. Not only are management decisions made by the Forest Service crucial to water quality in the lake and watershed; they are also the example that is set for the rest of those who live in the watershed. Small sediment and nutrient contributions throughout the watershed lead to large impacts on the lake. Each year harmful algae blooms appear on the lake, fueled by sediment and nutrients that come from the watershed and the lake itself.

In southern Indiana in the 1800s and early 1900s, homesteaders denuded areas with steep slopes by logging and failed agricultural efforts, then abandoned them. Waterways were choked with eroded soil. The national and state forests were established to restore these lands, abating the erosion that had left many bare or gullied hillsides. Over the years the mission of the Forest Service has expanded beyond soil and water protection to include outdoor recreation, range, timber, wildlife and fish, threatened and endangered species, and wilderness as resources to manage. As stewards of public lands, it is the responsibility of the Forest Service to manage these public lands for the public good. So, what does the public think? Polls conducted in various regions across the nation over the past 30 years clearly show that the overwhelming majority of the public opposes logging in national forests.

According to Michael Chaveas, H.N.F. supervisor, the forests of Indiana and the H.N.F. need more old forest and more young forest. During a meeting with H.N.F staff, we were told the forest of Houston South is currently 66% oak and hickory, 22% beech and maple, 4% non-native pine planted to prevent erosion, 2% elm, ash, and sycamore in bottomlands and 1% shortleaf pine and eastern red cedar. The Forest Service contends that it is necessary to intervene in the natural succession of these lands in order to provide more young forest, indicating that short-term disturbance is necessary to achieve long-term goals of maintaining oak and hickory dominated forests.

Shelterwood harvest would occur in three stages over a ten-year period. First the understory (dogwoods, redbuds, and others) would be removed entirely by prescribed burning, manual harvest, or herbicides. Next, half of the overstory (oaks, hickory, beech, maple) would be removed. Finally, the rest of the overstory would be removed. Some have called this slow-motion clearcutting. So, we need to remove an overstory that is two-thirds oak and hickory so that we can have more oak and hickory in the future? How about letting those oaks and hickories mature and provide much needed old forest while protecting the Lake Monroe watershed?

The Buffalo Pike cut, Hoosier National Forest. Photo by Jeff Stant, Sept. 2018

If the Buffalo Pike project area is indicative of the adjacent Houston South project, the endangered Indiana Bat and threatened northern long-eared bat may suffer long-term adverse effects as a result of timber operations. Birds like the Louisiana water thrush, and the Acadian flycatcher could thrive in these forests. Biological surveys of an older, unmanaged forest that is now part of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest showed that the mature forest hosted mink, coyote, red fox, bobcats, deer, flying squirrels, shrews, 48 bee species, 68 bird species (including nesting cerulean warblers) and 108 different lichen species.

While the species composition may differ at Houston South, it is likely to host a multitude of species that will thrive and evolve as time goes by. Is it really necessary to disrupt this thriving oak-hickory forest? Does the desire to actively manage the national forest outweigh our need to protect our lake and our drinking water?  We at Friends of Lake Monroe suggest that there are better alternatives.

As of now, the plan is open for public comment through Wednesday, December 26. Friends of Lake Monroe and others have asked that this period be extended due to the holidays and insufficient public notification and engagement to date. If you concur, contact H.N.F. District Ranger Michelle Paduani to politely request the extension:  michelle.paduani@usda.gov

TO COMMENT NOW: 

The Forest Service is taking public comment on the proposal from now until December 26. Written comments may be submitted by letter, email, or fax. The forest service asks anyone who leaves a comment to include their names, addresses, telephone, and email, if available. The Forest Service asks that you include “Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project” in your comment as well.

Mail to:
Hoosier National Forest, ATTN: Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project;
811 Constitution Ave.
Bedford, IN 47421

Fax:
(812) 279-3423
ATTN: Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project

Email:
comments-eastern-hoosier@fs.fed.us
Electronic comments must be submitted in a format such as an email message, plain text (.txt), rich text (.rtf), Word (.doc or .docx) or Portable Document Format (.pdf) to comments-eastern-hoosier@fs.fed.us. Comments must have an identifiable name attached or verification of identity will be required. A scanned signature may serve as verification on electronic comments.

In Person:
They can be left with the Hoosier National Forest Office in Bedford, or by telephone at (812)-275-5987.

Dr. Sherry Mitchell-Bruker is a former watershed manager for the Lassen National Forest, Research Hydrologist for Everglades National Park and President of the Friends of Lake Monroe.

Forests to Faucets: Logging in the Hoosier National Forest & the Lake Monroe Watershed

By Dave Simcox

Many forests leads to faucets — watersheds and forests are naturally interconnected. That’s why south-central Indiana residents should be concerned about a plan to harvest timber in the Hoosier National Forest (HNF) in 2019. Nearby Lake Monroe which provides many benefits to the area is the sole source of drinking water for 120,000+ local residents. The section of the HNF being considered for logging is in the hills of the South Fork of Salt Creek, a major tributary in the 423-sq. mile Lake Monroe watershed.

HNF staff have been studying and collecting data on this project area, termed Houston South, for at least three years. ?They shared their management plans in draft form last month with stakeholders, and, they have agreed to make a presentation and answer questions about it at a meeting October 25.

The entire Houston South Project would encompass 10,533 acres north of State Road 58 and south of Maumee and Houston. Approximately 4,700 acres have been identified for various timber cutting strategies.

Houston South Lake Monroe

Houston South lies in a Management Area which allows for commercial logging according to the most recent (2006) HNF forest management plan available here.

Many of the Houston South Project areas are steeply sloped, adding to the concern about these soils which are thin and possibly highly erodible. Any time there is a potential for erosion due to soil disturbance and resultant sediment flow into a lake, especially one that is a drinking water source, the benefits from activities such as timber removal need to be weighed against the risk to the greater public good.

This image of the Fork Ridge Trail, south of Buffalo Pike is an example of how Houston South currently looks. Photo by Dave Simcox.

Logging took place two years ago on approximately 60 acres nearby along Buffalo Pike which is an example of what could happen in the Houston South Project. See photos of Buffalo Pike here. More post-logging clean up of the site is promised.

You have the opportunity to learn more about this proposed plan for the HNF and get to involved. Michael Chaveas, the Supervisor of HNF, will be presenting the timber harvest plans and answering questions at a public meeting held by the Friends of Lake Monroe. The meeting will be at the Monroe County Public Library (303 E. Kirkwood Ave.) on Thursday, October 25 at 6:00 p.m. in the auditorium.

This event will also be live-streamed, so follow IFA and the Friends of Lake Monroe on Facebook to learn more.

* Special thanks to IFA & Wild Tecumseh Friends member Ann Deutch for her excellent work on the maps you see here.

A very nice hiking loop just north of Buffalo Pike, on a recent autumn day.

The Farm Bill Is Back. Let’s Thank Sen. Donnelly For Keeping Logging Out of It.

Remember how the U.S. House of Representatives tried to stuff the Farm Bill with attacks on the Endangered Species Act, the Roadless Rule, and other existing laws that conserve our shared natural resources such as our own Hoosier National Forest?

Well, now the Senate Agricultural Committee is reviewing the Farm Bill’s Forestry?Title — which is supposed to be about conservation. Now is the time to thank Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly in advance for helping to craft a bipartisan bill that will “keep the bill clean” and resist any amendments that?cater to special interests — such as the logging industry.

The Wilderness Society is a national organization keeping watch on these issues. They shared the current draft of the Farm Bill, and issued this request to all forest advocates:

CONTACT Senator Joe Donnelly. He sits on the Senate Ag Committee:?(317) 231-7108 /?info@joeforindiana.com.

If you say one thing: I support the Senate?s effort to produce a bipartisan farm bill by including a federal forestry title focused on conservation, collaboration, and other bipartisan policies, not on reckless environmental rollbacks intended to promote logging on our national forests above all else.

If you say two things: Senators should reject any amendments to the farm bill that eliminate environmental review of national forest management projects, cut out public participation, force arbitration on forest management projects, or attack conservation and species protections, such as the Roadless Rule, Endangered Species Act, or National Environmental Policy Act.

Unless we ask the Senate Agricultural Committee to “keep the Farm Bill clean,” the Hoosier National Forest (pictured) could be opened up to rampant logging.

More Talking Points:

  • The House and Senate farm bills offer wildly different visions for the future of our National Forests.
  • The Senate farm bill renews important Forest Service programs, such as the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) and promotes the public?s use of our national forests.
  • The Senate bill preserves the Roadless Rule, which protects water, wildlife, and popular recreation destinations on our national forests from harmful logging and road building.
  • The Senate bill expands the National Wilderness Preservation System by designating more than 25,000 acres of public lands in Tennessee and Virginia as wilderness.
  • The Senate Farm bill allows the Forest Service to get to work with the public in protecting the clean water, soil, wildlife habitat, recreational, and natural values of our national forests.
  • In contrast, the House bill includes fringe, partisan attacks on environmental protections, public input on projects, and endangered species while prioritizing logging over clean water, recreation, and wildlife.
  • For years the Congressional debate over forest management has been framed by the need to address hazardous fuels and wildfire. The recently enacted fire funding fix is an opportunity for the Forest Service to use their existing tools to work with the public and address the needs of our national forests.
  • Congress should stop trying to legislate logging projects and allow the Forest Service to use the many tools it has at its disposal to keep our communities safe from wildfire and protect the priceless values that our national forests provide.
  • Keep public lands in public hands! All Americans deserve a chance to have a say in how national forest lands are managed, not just the timber industry.

What’t the timing of this legislation??We expect the bill to move to the Senate floor shortly after markup and prior to the July 4 recess.

We will succeed or fail in defending our forests from attacks via the Farm Bill based on whether we can persuade the Democrats on the Senate Ag Committee to resist suspect amendments. Let’s give Donnelly the support he needs!

Our friends at the Hoosier Environmental Council could use extra help spreading the word about this issue. Can you help? If so, please contact HEC’s Wilderness Protection Campaign Coordinator, Marianne Holland, at?mholland@hecweb.org?or (317) 981-3210.

What You Can Do to Fight a Major New Attack on the Hoosier National Forest

by Jeff Stant, IFA Executive Director

Logging areas of ten square miles in our national forests at will, lifting protections on endangered species, weakening foundational environmental laws, and removing local control and public input: these are just some of the poison pills that have been slipped into the annual Farm Bill, H.R. 2. This key bill is under consideration now in the U.S. House of Representatives, and it is a full-frontal assault on your national forests, including our own Hoosier National Forest.

No later than Wednesday, May 16, PLEASE contact your congressional representative to ask for opposition to this bill with these forest provisions (find your representative?s name and contact info here).

Here?s what you can say:

?I write as your constituent to ask you to OPPOSE the federal forest management provisions in the Forestry Title (Title VIII) of the House Farm Bill (H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018). These provisions are the most significant attack on our national forests in years.

Please oppose the Farm Bill as long as it includes attacks on America?s national forests. Here are nine reasons why I ask you to oppose these provisions:

  • The provisions remove bedrock environmental protections.

The legislation is full of provisions that undermine important environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). This bill consistently gives the logging industry priority over all other forest stakeholders. It would cause irreparable harm to our federal forests and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water, subsistence, recreation, and economic benefit, and the wildlife that call them home.

  • The provisions give a free pass for logging in the Hoosier National Forest.

The provisions increase the size of the ?categorical exemptions? under NEPA by 24 times to allow logging up to 6,000-acres ? almost 10 square miles for each single project ? without public review or comment, consideration of alternatives or disclosure of potential harms. With these proposed exemptions, loggers would be able to clear 6,000 acres for a host of new reasons, such as creating early successional habitat, thinning forests, or insect and disease reduction.

  • The provisions weaken the U.S. Forest Service?s obligation to protect endangered wildlife.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service currently provides valuable expertise to the US Forest Service in management decisions that effect crucially important forest habitat for the Indiana Bat, Northern Long-eared Bat and other federal listed species in the HNF. ?The bill would eliminate the requirement for the US Forest Service to consult with the USFWS in these decisions.

Creek near Birdseye Trail, Hoosier National Forest

  • The provisions regarding wildfire management are not appropriate for the Hoosier National Forest.

Exempting logging projects from public input under the National Environmental Policy Act to prevent forest fires is not needed or appropriate for the Hoosier National Forest. ?This will harm the interests of citizens and communities who have long participated constructively in forest management decisions. Indiana?s wet and more humid climate means that only 12-24 fires occur per year in the HNF but they are small, usually 20 acres or less, usually caused by people, burn on the ground and are easily extinguished if they don?t burn out naturally. Lightning-caused fires are rare and are almost always extinguished by accompanying rain.

  • The provisions on logging in national forests will impact the drinking water of southern Indiana communities.

At least 50,000 acres of the Hoosier National Forest drain directly into Indiana?s two largest public water supply reservoirs, Monroe Reservoir and Patoka Reservoirs (source: HNF Land and Resource Management Plan). Monroe Reservoir provides drinking water to at least 100,000 Hoosiers (source: Vic Kelson, City of Bloomington Utilities via IFA board VP Dave Simcox). Patoka Reservoir provides drinking water to an estimated 130,000 Hoosiers (source: Jerry Allstott, Superintendent, Patoka Reservoir Water Treatment Plant). ?Thus US Forest Service decisions about salvage logging and timber harvests on these HNF lands can impact the drinking water of Bloomington, Orleans, Paoli, Ferdinand, Huntingburg and many other communities. ?The input that federal laws provide to these communities in such decisions should not be restricted by broad categorical exclusions from those laws under any pretext.

  • The provisions take away local control in Indiana.

The Hoosier National Forest is smaller and more scattered than most other national forests. ?As a result, the HNF shares approximately 1,400 miles of boundaries with surrounding property owners, making public input opportunities in management activities such as road building, timber harvests and salvage logging important to many local residents.

  • The provisions further reduce areas where recreation in wild nature is possible in Indiana.

Approximately half of the Hoosier National Forest?s 204,000 acres are set aside in the Charles Deam Wilderness or management prescriptions that preclude most timber harvest but usually allow salvage logging (source: Hoosier National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan). ??These are the only lands in Indiana that provide wilderness recreation opportunities such as backpacking, primitive camping, off trail orienteering, foraging and hunting in forests that are not being logged or managed for activities that degrade their natural character. ?Hoosiers? opportunities for input on decisions that affect these lands such as road building and salvage logging should not be restricted by broad categorical exclusions under any pretext.

  • The provisions roll back a good faith agreement already made in the recent federal omnibus bill.

In order to fund the huge cost of fighting of western wildfires, an agreement was negotiated ?that increased categorical exclusions for logging projects from 250 acres to 3,000 acres to reduce ?fuels? ignitable material such as wood. The provisions in the Farm Bill throw out this compromise, reached after weeks of negotiation, in another giveaway to the timber industry.

  • These provisions create problems for the Farm Bill.

The harmful federal forest proposals in this legislation solve no problem; they only add controversy to the Farm Bill.

As you can see, these national forest provisions remove local control, undermine existing laws, and allow Indiana?s only public lands protected for wilderness recreation to be destroyed.?

To all forest advocates: please ask your U.S. Representative to point out how damaging these provisions are to our public forests in any public statements or remarks they make explaining their opposition to the Farm Bill.

Again, you can find your representative?s contact info by clicking here. Thank you!